- by Michael Craig, Owen Sound trustee, representing his opinions, not official policy of the Bluewater District School Board

Doug Ford, Ontario‘s Premier, recently weighed in on the roles of school boards, teachers and parents in teaching sex education:  “Most important is the parents’ rights, the parents’ rights to listen and make sure they are informed when their children make a decision.  You know it’s not up to the teachers, it’s not up to the school boards, to indoctrinate our kids…” 

As a trustee on the Bluewater Board, I agree that parents should be encouraged to be involved in all aspects of their children’s education.  However, Mr. Ford gets it wrong when he suggests that teachers and school boards are out to “indoctrinate” students.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Boards across Ontario follow the Ontario sex education curriculum, endorsed by the Ford government, which specifies that students in grade five learn about sexual orientation in the context of a person’s self-concept.  They also learn about the negative effects of making homophobic comments.  Gender identity and sexual orientation are taught in Grade eight. 

Last week a post on the Bluewater web site confirmed that the Board is “committed to fostering a safe, equitable, and inclusive learning environment that enables every student to learn effectively, reduces achievement gaps, and improves learning outcomes for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, class, ethnicity, disability, and other historical forms of marginalization ….  We stand in unwavering solidarity with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community today and every day.”  This is also the policy of the Ministry of Education.

But let’s be clear:  teachers do not indoctrinate or even advocate for homosexuality or changing one’s gender identity.  Nor do they, contrary to misinformation out there, promote masturbation, pedophilia or sexual experimentation for 13-year olds.  Professional teachers don’t promote - period! 

Premier Ford has expressed support for the governments of New Brunswick and Saskatchewan that have announced policies requiring schools to inform parents if their children ask to be addressed by a new name and pronouns, he-to-she for instance, that reflect a change in gender orientation.  This sounds reasonable to advocates of parents’ rights.  But it could be dicey, even dangerous, if a parent or guardian is vehemently opposed to their child’s wishes.  We have to be conscious, above all, of the physical and mental health of our students.

A statement from Ontario’s 73 Directors of Education asserts that “Healthy and affirming conditions and environments must be actively fostered, and in some instances, this may be by someone other than a parent/guardian.  Gender affirming practices such as honouring chosen names and/or pronouns, and other expressions of gender within school settings positively contribute to a student’s sense of safety, belonging and inclusion.”

Reacting to the Mr. Ford’s statement, Kojo Modeste, executive director of Pride Toronto, said “It was disheartening, disappointing, and hurtful, especially when we have seen the hate directed toward the LGBTQ+ community.  I strongly believe this is just another way of the premier and his ministers deflecting and trying to move away from some of the real issues we’re facing in this province.”

In the same interview Doug Ford also said, “I can’t even figure out what school boards do nowadays, by the way.”  This offhand remark should be taken very seriously.  Can anyone forget that, within months of the 2018 election, Mr. Ford unilaterally, without notice or discussion, cut the size of Toronto City Council in half?  He is certainly capable of impetuous decisions and he has the power to hobble municipal governments or school boards.

While the province, through the Ministry of Education, controls school board budgets and the curriculum, I am strongly convinced that we need local control of policies and programs that impact our children and grandchildren.  We need our local Boards to be sensitive to local needs;  for example, by building programs in response to the rural and agricultural nature of Grey and Bruce counties.

The role of local school boards, as I see it, is to hold the Ministry and local administration to account.  We have a serious, creative role to play as advocates for our school system who are also prepared to be constructive critics when things go wrong, when children’s needs are not being met.  We shouldn’t have to wait for words of wisdom from Queen’s Park.


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